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Work starts at Antarctica's Rothera Research Station Discovery Building

Monday, January 25th 2021 - 09:07 UTC
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Rothera with the RRS James Clark Ross Rothera with the RRS James Clark Ross

The next stage of building a scientific support facility in Antarctica has started and to avoid the risk of introducing COVID-19 to the British Antarctic Survey’s (BAS) Rothera Research Station, the construction team spent two weeks in quarantine and had three Covid-19 tests prior to making the 11,000-kilometer voyage by ship.

A 20 person-plus team from BAS construction partners BAM, Ramboll and Sweco is working on the second season of building the cutting-edge science and operations building. Construction can only take place during a short window during the Antarctic summer months, avoiding the harsh, dark winter. This season the team aims to complete the pre-cast concrete foundations, ground floor slab, rock anchors and stub columns, as well as drainage and the perimeter wall, before returning in December to complete the outer structure.

The new scientific support facility, named the Discovery Building, commemorates the discovery of Antarctica just over 200 years ago. The project is part of the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization Program (AIMP). Facilities in the new two-storey 4,500m2 building include preparation areas for field expeditions, offices, a medical centre, recreational spaces (music room and climbing wall) and science workshops.

The Discovery Building has a unique design, such as a thermally-efficient envelope to minimize energy use, along with heat recovery generators and photovoltaic solar panels. It also has a snow and wind deflector – the largest of its kind in Antarctica – to minimize time spent removing snow accumulation from around the building.

Bright, open-plan offices foster collaboration and improve health and wellbeing of staff living in remote locations. Roof lights increase natural light and reduce the effects of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

The project is delivered by the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization partnership, which includes construction partner BAM and their team, design consultants Sweco, Hugh Broughton Architects, with Ramboll acting as BAS’s Technical Advisers, with their team NORR architects and Turner & Townsend.

Maurice Siemensma, Project Manager at BAM said: “We’re delighted to return for another construction season at Rothera, to undertake the installation of the foundations, the concrete perimeter walls, the underground drainage and completing the earthworks for the Discovery Building. Although this year’s construction season has been shortened, we have put together a program to ensure we can continue progress on this crucial piece of infrastructure, which will support the construction works in the coming season substantially”.

David Brand, Senior Project Manager at British Antarctic Survey said: “By working in collaboration with our construction partners and colleagues at BAS, we have planned this year’s season and overcome a number of challenges, including logistics and maintaining safety for our staff. This short season will see the completion of a vital stage of construction for this new facility at Rothera, which will help generations of scientists understand the future challenges of climate change.”

The Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization (AIM) program is commissioned by UKRI-NERC (Natural Environment Research Council. It aims to keep the UK at the forefront of climate, biodiversity and ocean research and will last between 7-10 years and is worth an estimated £100m.

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